Kenna, a relaxed empath serving time at a private school for average teens, swore off saving the world ever since it took away her lover and broke her heart. However, with mystery threatening the one wholly good guy she has begun to feel again, it looks like pretending not to care might have to be put to the back of her mind.
Three panes of glass exploded into outward splinters as a wave of head rolled forth. Kenna cursed, dropping her head so it bowed to the tendrils of grass below. They tickled, filling her face with the scents of an early spring, so far gone that the burning sensation above her head could do little.
Kenna clutched her satchel to her chest, panting. She glanced up at the splintering wood and brick that had been a classroom. There went Geography. It was easy to pretend to be innocent to the loss – less so to actually give a damn.
“Oh my god, Kenna. I heard you were in there, like, five minutes ago. Are you okay?” Hands the colour of milk latched themselves onto Kenna’s shoulders and heaved her off the ground.
To actually give a damn…
“Yeah,” Kenna replied, forcing her face into grim reality. She turned to that milk-white face and the features of a fellow classmate, Sirina. “Lucky I’m that good at Geog that Mr. Mathews and I ended the lesson early.”
“Right.” Sirina’s round face split wider, and she tossed a wave of blonde across her shoulder.
“Yes?” Kenna pursed her lips. The school was burning above them, and all the girl could think about was the idol, the ‘pretty boy’ of staff culture.
A whir of sirens cut the mist. “Good,” said Kenna. “I’m going to Mrs. MacAuley. I’m sure she’ll want to hear my side of the story. Anybody registered?”
Sirina bobbed beside her, keeping pace in stick legs. “Most people have gone home. I don’t know why I didn’t either. In this black air…”
Kenna stopped, hearing Sirina trip as she fell into place, too. She turned. The night’s torch was the amber curve of brick pouring skyward. That would light them all home.
A man dressed in a bulky yellow suit jogged towards her. His words were lost over the hard thumping of his feet, but, from the way his head was turned, they hadn’t been directed at her. She followed his eyeline to similarly-dressed people clambering around a large red vehicle. The fire brigade. At last.
And as if it wasn’t bad enough that she had been in the surrounding area of the fire, now more and more people were crowding her, with voices deeper than the groan of the inflammation. It was people’s voices Kenna couldn’t stand. From the staff block emerged the headmistress Mrs. MacAuley. She swanned over to Kenna. Perhaps she thought the best remedy for shock was to envelop her student.
“Oh, Kenna,” she declared. “I had heard that you were staying after school. Extra Geography was it? In there? Dear me. Let’s get you to the paramedic.” Not more of them, voices cluttering into her head. Kenna lifted a finger to her temple, working it around the locks of hair.
“I wasn’t even in the fire, ma’am,” she protested. “Please, keep me not long.” She dug her heel into the wet mud-ground, angling herself to Sirina. “You don’t have to keep an eye on me; I’m fine.”
The blonde girl ducked her head. “Okay. Look, I’ve already spread the word. But I dunno what they’re gonna do. They can’t close the school when one room – maybe two – exploded. Right? Tell me I’m right, Kenna.”
“You’re right.” Only when Sirina had tripped away did Kenna add, “For once.”
Spreading the word was an unfortunate act. It opened up discussion to even the lowly, those who were never involved. Kenna shrugged. It was their school already – and had been before her own – but they really had no understand of how irritating pandemic rumours could be in flooding the mind. Whispers tripped across the worldly sphere, and Kenna’s phone was abuzz with the chatter from that certain Facebook already. She flipped the device out of her pocket, and turned it off by the slide of her thumb. It would cost later, but it didn’t matter. She didn’t want to think about other people again. She had sworn herself off people.
Mrs. MacAuley’s guiding hand was still present. The principal cast steely eyes into Kenna’s own, the same way she had just over a month ago. “You should at least talk to Mr. Mathews, prove to him that you are okay.”
Now why was it that even she blushed at his name? As Kenna dropped and lifted her head – a nod only because it looked like one – thoughts swelled in their unpleasant discourse. She forced them down her glottal throat.
Mr. Mathews lingered further than the rest of the staff who had remained behind to mark their work or give extra lessons. He had one elbow against the trunk of a tree bordering the school perimeter; his own hand swept a handkerchief around his blonde hair. The man stopped as Kenna approached.
“Hey, Kenna. Are you all right?” he asked with forced cheeriness.
Kenna tried a smile, but her mood did not get past the force of both of their actions…and the thought that if they had not called it a day so soon… No doubt her teacher was thinking the same. Beads of sweat had welled up from the edges of his pores and now glistened in the evening light from the effigy behind her.
“Are you?” she asked.
“I was just…nearby when the room caught fire. I’m…a little…”
Mr. Mathews’ eyes fluttered closed until one hand found his face and the other the trunk of the tree.
“Sir?” Kenna neared.
“Just a little dizzy. Really, I’m –”
His lanky body crumbled to the floor, knees folding into toes, arms folding into knees, and his head throwing itself last to the ground.
“Help!” Kenna cried. She could already feel the life ebbing from him. And those firemen, even when they doubled as paramedics, could not reach him. Kenna knelt by her teacher, angry at whatever sort of arsonist thought it wise to trash a school – but what hurt her more was that, in receiving Mr. Mathews as he passed in and out of consciousness, she was breaking her promise to herself.